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Collections care at the Camden Archives and Museum

Posted: September 20, 2012 8:17 p.m.
Updated: September 21, 2012 5:00 a.m.

A blue wool uniform worn by a Confederate soldier, a Victorian baby’s christening gown, a “Brown Bess” from the Revolutionary War period, a liquor bottle labeled “South Carolina Dispensary,” an exquisitely designed colonial period fork made of horn … all of these items reside in the collection at the Camden Archives and Museum. These objects and 1,080 others, plus 11,425 photographs, 7,706 manuscripts and 7,184 books, make up the collection of the Archives and Museum.

When a museum or archives accepts an object or document into its collection, it enters into an ethical agreement to care for that object or document and preserve it for the future. The American Association of Museums’ Standards and Best Practices states this in museum professionals’ language,

Stewardship is the careful, sound and responsible management of that which is entrusted to a museum’s care. Possession of collections incurs legal, social, and ethical obligations to provide proper physical storage, management and care for the collections and associated documentation, as well as proper intellectual control. Collections are held in trust for the public and made accessible for the public’s benefit.

Elizabeth E. Merritt wrote that statement in lay persons’ language:

Know what stuff you have.

Know what stuff you need.

Know where it is.

Take good care of it.

Make sure someone gets some good out of it …

Especially someone you care about …

And your neighbors.

This is what we are charged with at the Camden Archives and Museum. In recent months, the staff spent a little more than $6,000 on new acid free boxes and supplies for our collection. Part of the funding for these supplies came from the Friends of the Archives and Museum, a group organized in 1999 to support the work of this institution. The Friends raised the funding to build the new wing on the Archives building. The wing houses the museum exhibit gallery and collections storage. Physical storage is one important aspect of preservation. Slowly, each object and collection are being transferred to the new acid-free housing and stabilized. The archival collections are being processed to remove any metal such as paper clips and staples. Rubber bands are also a “no-no!”

“Intellectual control” over the collection can be simply described as good record keeping and knowing exactly where every item is stored. The staff has worked diligently over the past years to enter the collections records in a computer program called “PastPerfect.” It is a wonderful and efficient museum management program which addresses collections and also has museum membership functions. The program denotes exact locations in collection storage for our materials and can store all of our background information on each object, as well as an image of each item in the collection. The program could, in theory, allow us to go paperless with our records management function. Being cautious, though, we duplicate PastPerfect’s background information content with the actual paper copies of loan and gift agreements and correspondence regarding each item in our collection.

People always wonder what we museum and archives people do with our time! We take care of the “stuff” so your children and grandchildren can see it in the future. And on occasion, we bring out the “stuff” and put it on exhibit or let you research with it so “someone gets some good out of it.” Being a department of the city of Camden, the Archives and Museum staff really works for you! Come visit us and see how we’re doing!

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